Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks

Saturday July 18, 3:00pm, GIO Stadium

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets!

Coverage: Foxsports 1

Referees: Ashley Klein and Peter Gough

Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Damien Irvine

The Raiders have the opportunity to leapfrog Cronulla on the competition ladder and potentially claw their way back into the top eight with a triumph over the Sharks this Saturday at home in Heritage Round of the NRL.

Since the Raiders inception into the NSWRL back in 1982, there have been several memorable clashes between the two clubs. These battles range from the 1989 Minor Preliminary Final where the Raiders trumped the Sharks 31-10 at the SFS which paved the way for the Green Machine to go onto win their first premiership, to the more recent qualifying semi-final in 2012 which the Raiders won 34-16 in front of 24,450 fans at GIO Stadium.

Fittingly, this fixture is of vital importance to both team’s semi-final aspirations with both clubs fighting for a spot in the top eight.

The two sides met in the opening round of the season, with Canberra prevailing 24-20 at Remondis Stadium, and each club has trod similar paths since then.

CLICK HERE to watch the Round 1 Match Highlights.

As it stands, Canberra sits in ninth position on the ladder and just two points outside their goal of the top eight. Cronulla sits just one spot above the Raiders in ninth position, however the Green Machine has the superior for-and-against record, which may also see them climb into the top eight depending on the results on the other three clubs who are locked on 20 competition points.

"The Sharks are going well at the moment but in saying that, we had a good win over the Knights on the weekend and there are plenty of positives that we can draw from that,” Edrick Lee said.

"We’re at home again and hopefully we can get a bit of momentum leading into the finals. It all starts this Saturday against the Sharks though, this game could be pivotal to our season and we are determined to get back into the top eight!"

The Raiders are coming off a tremendous 36-22 victory over the Knights at GIO Stadium in Round 18 and they will again look to replicate this strong showing when they again run out at home.

A key figure in the win was the outstanding performance by halfback Sam Williams who registered three try assists and 342 kick metres in conjunction with his superb organisational play. Unfortunately, Williams did not finish the match after injuring his pectoral and the injury will sideline the in-form playmaker for 5-6 weeks.

In Williams’ absence, Ricky Stuart has made the interesting decision to select Kurt Baptiste at halfback, which in turn sees Joey Leilua return to the interchange bench after he was forced to sit out last week’s match against his former club due to the terms of his contract release.

CLICK HERE to see the NRL Team List.

Similarly, the Sharks are coming off a comprehensive 20-point win over the St George Illawarra Dragons last week and are coming into form at the right time of the year.

"We had a good win over the Knights last week but they’re coming second last on the ladder so we’ll have to respect the difference in intensity this week against the Sharks,” David Shillington said. “There are no easy games in the NRL but it will certainly be a rise in intensity this week against the Sharks, who have a really good forward pack.”

To commemorate Heritage Round, the Raiders will be wearing the club’s Heritage jersey which features an image of Dean Lance and Mal Meninga after the 1989 Grand Final win, as well as the Men of League socks.

CLICK HERE to purchase a Raiders Heritage Jersey! 

KEY MATCHUPS

David Shillington v Andrew Fifita

Since his return to first grade, David Shillington has been a colossus up front for the Raiders, leading the way forward for the talented young brigade of Boyd, Vaughan and co.

And in what is a worrying sign for opposition sides, Shillington is planning on lifting his performances to ensure that he finishes his seven year tenure in lime green by guiding the Raiders to a semi-finals appearance.

“I’ve had some good years here at the Raiders and I certainly want to go out on a high note having signed with the Titans for next year,” Shillington said.

“I’d certainly like to depart the club after playing finals footy. That’s our goal as a team and a major focus for me personally.”

Shillington was close to earning Man of the Match honours last weekend after running for 160 metres and compiling 29 tackles, and Andrew Fifita was similarly impressive for the Sharks running in a whopping 216 metres and registering 22 offloads, 2 tackle busts and 2 offloads.

These figures alone suggest a formidable clash in the middle of the field between these two giants.

Josh Papalii v Paul Gallen

Ah yes, a clash between the Raiders and the Sharks could not be discussed without mentioning the much hyped match-up between Papalii and Gallen.

Papalii made headlines across the nation when at just 20 years of age he successfully rattled the Blues skipper in the 2012 Qualifying Semi-Final at GIO Stadium and backed that up with several heated interactions at Origin level the following year.

Despite the hype and speculation, the pair are actually on quite good terms after bonding at the 2013 World Cup, however that doesn’t mean that their competitive spirits won't come to the fore this Saturday afternoon.

The fact is that both men are incredibly crucial to their side’s fortunes.

Papalii registered a double in the win over the Knights whilst Gallen is undoubtedly the Sharks’ rock and his numbers from last week’s win over the Dragons demonstrates why – 206 metres, 26 tackles, 3 offloads, 2 tackle busts and incalculable leadership.

Kurt Baptiste v Ben Barba

Whilst both teams possess monstrous forward packs, the battle between mighty mouses Kurt Baptiste and Ben Barba will be highly influential to the outcome of the match.

Despite neither player surpassing 174 centimetres, both Baptiste and Barba are feared men due to their ability to make the big boys look foolish, with either a well disguised dummy, their sharp footwork or on-field intellect.

Undoubtedly the biggest talking point surrounding the Raiders team announcement was the selection of Baptiste at halfback in place of Williams. Baptiste is predominantly a hooker, although he does have experience at halfback in the junior grades of the Brisbane Broncos.

After starting the season at five-eighth, followed by a stint at fullback, Barba has found his place on the interchange bench over the last month for Crounulla where Coach Shane Flanagan injects him into the fray to torment the tired opposition forwards.

The Raiders will need to be on their toes when Barba is marshalled to the sideline as the Sharks average more points with Barba on the field than when they do whilst he is off it.

STAT ATTACK

Record against the Sharks:

In a total of 63 games against Cronulla, Canberra has won 30 games and lost on 33 occasions.

Sharks record at GIO Stadium:

In a total of 23 games played at GIO Stadium, Cronulla has won just 9 games, and lost on 14 occasions.

Last three encounters:

1.        Raiders defeated Sharks 24-20 at Remondis Stadium in Round 1, 2015

2.        Raiders defeated Sharks 22-12 at Remondis Stadium in Round 24, 2014

3.        Sharks defeated Raiders 38-18 at GIO Stadium in Round 26, 2013


HE SAID IT

Edrick Lee: “It was a big week for me and an awesome experience to be inside the Queensland camp. It was good to learn off the superstars that were in that team and I’ve got a lot of confidence out of it. I want to get there one day but I have to lift my game and consistency at the Raiders first.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Lee.

David Shillington: “We’d love to back up last week’s win against the Sharks this Saturday and we need to because we’re sitting just outside the eight. Another win could put us in the eight where we want to be, but the Sharks are in the same situation with the same goals so it will be a really tough game.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Shillington.

Paul Vaughan: “Shillington has been unreal. I try to keep up with him but he does a lot of work. He’s a good leader and for me personally I try to follow him and do what he does. He will be sorely missed next year but it’s probably time for me and Boydy to take on more leadership.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Vaughan.